Lessons from Experience
. . . Very long ago, one of the best-loved
poets of the Malayalam language asked me on a public platform: "Why
has there not been a single woman poet in this land, where the Goddess
of Poetry is conceived and worshipped in a woman's form? Although
they are eulogized as personifications of passion, why has not even
one of them composed a single line of love poetry?" He held
up his chair, and demanded: "Look at thisthis is a tool
of wood. It has four legs, a back, a seat. Has woman, after all,
functioned only as a tool like this?"
I was distressed. I did not quite follow the
comparison between a woman and a chair. Was womanhood an inanimate
object like a block of wood, for others to chisel and carve? If
a work of art had warmth and movement and the power to make decisions,
what would it become? This poet had certainly written innumerable
love poems, but if a young woman composed love poetry, did he understand
what her life in society would become? Would he allow his sister
to go in search of love, experience love, as he himself did?
Besides, from time immemorial, poets have
with indulgence called women weak, deceitful, and cowardly. Because
women have constantly heard this, they have come to believe it too.
Eyes like black kuvala blossoms. Cheeks like roses. A forehead like
a crescent moon. And lips like red tondi fruits. But no one looked
at the heart trembling within that breast, its warmth and power,
its tears and hopes.
Women, as conceived in literature, were always
objects of pleasure. Even the shining models from history and the
epics have lost their glow. According to Christian belief, the very
first woman was, after all, accursed. Although it was on the evil
advice of the serpent, it was she who plucked the fruit of the Tree
of Knowledge and she offered it to her husband. As for her husband,
who attained knowledge, he realized the danger of allowing her to
taste the fruit and deliberately snatched it from her. Thus she
became a sinner in her husband's eyes as well as in the eyes of
God. And so Eve, made from Adam's rib, plods on, shouldering the
burden of her curse, the eternal representative of womanhood. As
for the Hindu epics: Sita was repudiated, Draupadi was dishonored.
In Rajput times, Meera had to take poison, Padmini had to jump into
the fire. In the modern age, when tradition loosens its grip on
them, they will show you. Wait and see. The very flow of your poetry
will change direction
I think I said something like that. When the
meeting was over, the young poet asked me, "If you were to
have the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge now, Chechi [elder sister],
what would you do with it?"
I laughed. "Don't you know? I'm a woman,
too, rememberlike the very first woman, I too will put it
into your mouth, younger brother." . . .
Excerpted from an essay published in
Cast Me Out If You Will: Stories & Memoir, translated with
an introduction by Gita Krishnankutty, Calcutta: Stree, 1998.